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Half-Life (PC) artwork

Half-Life (PC) review

"“….Medic!” screams the marine as I plow lead into his back. He retreats around the corner, probably hoping to enlist the help of his comrades. I do not follow; following could be suicide. "

“….Medic!” screams the marine as I plow lead into his back. He retreats around the corner, probably hoping to enlist the help of his comrades. I do not follow; following could be suicide.

A short time later, I hear the telltale “Fire in the hole!” followed by the *clink* of a firing pin being removed, then the light thud of a frag grenade landing somewhere within range of me. Fearing for my life, I dash into the room, narrowly avoiding the resulting explosion, and blow everyone within to pieces using a grenade of my own.

This scene is just one of many that can occur in Half Life where marines (or grunts – if you don’t want to sound unpatriotic) are just a few of the many enemies you face. Indeed, American soldiers are the only human enemy you have to fight. The rest? Aliens.

Yes; the world of Half Life takes place sometime between the years 2000 and 2009 where science has made great strides in the fields of astronomy and the study of extra terrestrial life. Within the Black Mesa Research Facility, experimentations in teleportation take place, and it’s in this environment that the game thrusts you, for you are Dr. Gordon Freeman, a theoretical physician and employee of the facility.

However, something goes terribly wrong. A chain reaction occurs when introducing the test sample into the teleportation beam; a chain reaction that opens a rift into another world. The resulting disaster destroys the facility and enables a horde of terrifying alien life forms to infiltrate the research center and surrounding areas. It is up to you, one of the last survivors, to destroy these creatures, using whatever help whenever you can, be that the impressive array of weapons scattered throughout the levels or enlisting the help of scientists (for opening high-level security doors) or security officers to help fight the menace.

This help will be much appreciated later when the government gets involved. They’ve dispatched the U.S. Marines – specifically a Special Forces group specially trained in handling biohazardous situations. Sent to cover up the accident, they will do whatever it takes to accomplish their mission, and that entails getting rid of the aliens… and you. If you can survive their merciless onslaught long enough, you will discover the shocking truths behind the alien invasion. Indeed, Half Life has a thoroughly planned plot structure, something most games in the genre don’t have. It's the fantastic plot and pacing helps make Half Life one of the most well made First Person Shooters created, telling the story through dialogue with in-game models that let you stay and interact with or ignore completely.

In addition to the plot, it’s just an amazing game to play. As you snake your way through levels, avoiding hazards like pools of radiation, electrically charged puddles of water, and the occasional deadly drop, you must encounter and destroy various enemies – each requiring a certain strategy or level of power to defeat. For example, the barnacle is a primitive ambush predator that sticks to ceilings, rolling its tongue out to the floor, snagging anything that adheres to its slimy surface. If it pulls you in all the way, it’s deadly claws will thrash you to bits. The only ways to kill it are to shoot it with a weapon, smash it with a crowbar just as it’s about to eat you, or shove an explosive barrel into the tongue’s path, blowing the barrel up as it reaches the top. You must also figure ways to get past locked or blocked rooms, find your way out of confusing complexes such as the missile silo or the power plant, ride through a labyrinthine underground monorail, even navigate yourself through a series of teleporters, where you can end up either lost or dead fairly quickly if you choose the wrong combination of portals. Yes; a variety of puzzles combined with strategically placed opponents, each variant with its own unique offensive techniques, creates an explosive environment that never becomes a chore to explore.

The power plant: a massive building guarded by a mammoth monster. It would be better to avoid the beast, but I know this is impossible – the depowered monorail is the only escape route, and the alien is blocking its path. As I enter the massive room, I see the rail track controls in the center, but I also see the blue-hued, bipedal lion-like gargantuan creature guarding them. It sees me and charges, shooting a jet of flame from its arms in my direction. It’s a broad, far-reaching flame, one that is terribly difficult to avoid. I flee, running into an entryway to some part of the plant; the beast is too large to fit through the doorway. Still, the danger’s not over yet… It knows I’m in here, and it’s determined to roast me, no matter what it takes. It stomps the ground, and I look on in terror as the stream of fire travels along the ground. This flame is different from its predecessor… This one follows me a bit before finally disappearing.

Perhaps one of the most amazing aspects of the game is the AI. Both sides of the “war” – alien and human (but especially human) – are incredibly smart. Humans will zigzag around the battlefield, shooting on the move and ducking behind crates and other obstacles. They'll flank and out-possition you, flush you out of cover with well-aimned grenades and even work as a well-oiled team when fighting you. But it's not just the humans that are smart - the aliens are, too. Or, more precisely, those aliens that were designed to be smart.

Take the Tentacle for example. It’s blind, but its hearing is amazing. If you’re not sneaking around, it’ll immediately hone in on your position and smack you with its deadly armored mandible. And, as it is with most creatures endowed with one great gift, you can use that against them. In this case, lobbing a grenade in the opposite direction is an effective way to distract the creature long enough to allow you safe passage through its lair. However, this latter example shows the attempt at realism the designers put in this game; this does not detract from the alien intelligence factor. Being easily thrown off by a loud noise is merely an accurate and sensible reaction to a blind predator searching for food – look in the place that makes the most noise. However, that does not mean all the alien AI is smart – indeed there are some primitively designed units, but this is only to show the level of intelligence between different species – a rather remarkably believable event.

Xen. The enemy’s home. It’s a seemingly lifeless planet, judging from the lack of inactivity on the surface, but things are lurking underneath. The low gravity here is deceitful. I jump, and seem to glide from floating rock to floating rock, but I’d best be careful; a fall from this height could be the end of me. It’s just… the low gravity makes such jumps seem possible.

I finally get to the actual face of the planet and enter a strange structure that seems to take me underground. This is where the activity is. Vortigaunts – the bipedal alien slaves of Xen, prolific and with the ability to shoot lightning from their hands – work the hidden mines, supervised by their alien grunt commanders. It’s a foul, confusing place… and I must be careful not to attract any unwanted attention.

The realism that lets zero gravity jumps possible has clearly been worked hard on. Too much time underwater makes you suffocate; biohazard spills and flames eat away your life and falling from heights initializes drop damage. But they can also be used to your advantage. Dropping a grenade by your feet may sound like a dumb idea (and your health points will never thank you for it) but it can propel you into super-human leaps. Exploiting the explosion-added jumps, though, can send you soaring above the game's mapscape, giving those willing to blow themselves to hell an easier terrain to tread

All of these features add up to make Half Life one of the greatest First Person Shooters out there. Everything about this game just works – from the exceptional plot, the incredibly developed AI, and the explicit attention to detail all make this game a monumental experience. You’ll want to play the game many times over, not to test yourself against the three difficulty levels, but just to enjoy the experience of watching the AI in action, to see how the enemy will react to you each time, and to accept the challenge of facing the same problems in a totally different way. Indeed, Half Life gets all the kudos in the world for its revolutionary achievements. After all, how many games have changed a genre forever to such a degree as this?

wolfqueen001's avatar
Community review by wolfqueen001 (November 04, 2007)

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